TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - One day before Florida's 15-week abortion ban was scheduled to take effect, a Leon County judge said Thursday he would temporarily block it.
Judge John C. Cooper's decision stems from a court challenge by reproductive health providers who say the state constitution guarantees a right to the procedure. Thursday, he made the oral ruling from the bench, adding he would soon sign the temporary injunction. The state will almost certainly fight the ruling.
Cooper based his ruling on the state's privacy clause - which was adopted by voters in 1989. It has been cited in past Florida Supreme Court decisions to block abortion restrictions.
The new law – signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April – bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It only makes exceptions for fatal fetal abnormalities or if the mother's life is at risk. The law defines such abnormalities as "a terminal condition that, in reasonable medical judgment, regardless of the provision of life-saving medical treatment, is incompatible" with life outside the womb.
A violator of the third-degree felony could face up to five years in prison, and physicians and other medical professionals who violate the law could lose their licenses and face administrative fines of $10,000 for each violation. Under current law, Florida had allowed abortions up to 24 weeks.
DeSantis has a previously scheduled press conference in Sanford on Thursday afternoon and will likely make a statement following the ruling.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and other reproductive health providers previously asked the judge to issue a temporary injunction to stop the law from taking effect while a lawsuit plays out in the courts.
They argue an amendment in the Florida Constitution guarantees a broad right to privacy, which includes the right to abortion.
FLORIDA ABORTION LAW: Gov. DeSantis signs 15-week abortion ban into Florida law
In 1980, Florida voters amended the state constitution to guarantee a broad right of privacy, which includes the right to abortion, the abortion providers said in court papers.
Florida voters reaffirmed the right to privacy again in 2012 by rejecting a ballot initiative that would have weakened its protections and would have prohibited state courts from interpreting the Florida Constitution to provide stronger protection for abortion than federal law, they said.
"Despite Florida's history of protecting the right to abortion, the Florida legislature recently engaged in a brazen attempt to override the will of the Florida people," the abortion providers said. "It will deny Floridians autonomy over their own bodies and undermine their ability to make deeply personal decisions about their lives, families and health care free of government interference."
But the state of Florida in court papers asked the Florida judge to reject the request, saying those who are challenging the lawsuit have failed to show they will suffer "irreparable harm" if the injunction isn't granted. The state of Florida also argued that the abortion providers don't have standing to make a claim of a personal right to privacy since they are acting as third parties on behalf of their patients.
"In other words, doctors are not irreparably harmed simply because they cannot perform a procedure prohibited by state law," attorneys for the state of Florida said.
Separately, a South Florida synagogue also is challenging the legality of Florida's new abortion law, claiming it violates religious freedom rights of Jews in addition to the state constitution’s privacy protections. The lawsuit filed by the Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor of Boynton Beach contends the law violates Jewish teachings, which state abortion "is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman" and for other reasons
The Florida law mirrors a similar measure passed in Mississippi, which a conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court used to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion decision.
By the numbers: 2022 abortions in Florida
Data shows the majority of abortions in Florida occur before the 15-week cutoff. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said about 2% of the nearly 72,000 abortions reported in Florida in 2019 were performed after 15 weeks.
State numbers show that Florida had 33,382 abortions in a little more than the first five months of 2022. Here are counties that totaled the most abortions during the period. The numbers reflect county residents who had abortions, not necessarily the counties where abortions took place.
— Miami-Dade County: 5,795
— Broward County: 4,502
— Hillsborough County: 2,979
— Out-of-state residents: 2,372
— Orange County: 2,210
— Palm Beach County: 2,073
— Duval County: 1,813
— Pinellas County: 1,402
— Polk County: 904
— Lee County: 852
— Pasco County: 559
— Brevard County: 554
— Osceola County: 526
— Leon County: 474
— Volusia County: 471
— Seminole County: 464
— Manatee County: 400
— St. Lucie County: 392
— Escambia County: 390
— Alachua County: 382
— Marion County: 379
— Sarasota County: 360
— Collier County: 326
— Lake County: 289
— Okaloosa County: 225
— Clay County: 187
— Bay County: 176
— Hernando County: 171
— St. Johns County: 170
— Indian River County: 129
— Charlotte County: 128
— Martin County: 109
— Flagler County: 106
— Santa Rosa County: 100
Source: Florida Agency for Health Care Administration report dated June 10.
The Associated Press and the News Service of Florida contributed to this report.